Financing Pakistan education and beyond

June 2008: There are a number of studies that support the linkage between education and development. Education per se is not development but can prepare individuals to enhance their chances of exploring ways and means for development.

The relationship between education and development is a two-way process, that is, quality education leads to development and development can pave the way for quality education.

In recent times, the term 'knowledge economy' has become a currency concept. In most developing countries, the state of education in quantitative and qualitative terms is questionable. Recognising the significant role education can play, rulers in developing countries should invest more in education as this investment may ensure a bright future for them.

In 1997, Mongolia allocated 8.5 per cent of its GDP to education. Pakistan was at the lowest rung of the ladder as its allocation for education was only 2.2 per cent of GDP. This amount was less than the amount allocated by the Maldives (8.1), Iran (5.4), Malaysia (5.1), South Korea (4.2), Thailand (4.0), India (3.7), Sri Lanka (3.1), Nepal (2.9), Afghanistan (2.3) and Bangladesh (2.3). These figures suggest the lack of priority given to education by Pakistan's decision-makers. Is it because we do not have enough financial resources that we cannot allocate more funds for education?

Before we hasten to answer this question let us see what the military expenditure was as a percentage of GDP in 2006. Here Pakistan is on the top rung with 3.2 per cent followed by Sri Lanka (2.6), India (2.5), Nepal (1.6), Bangladesh (1.5) and Bhutan (one per cent). This suggests that it is more an issue of priority than that of financial resources.

According to the CIA Fact Book, "Pakistan's proposed defence budget for financial year 2006-07 accounts for about one-fifth of the total budget and is 20 times more than what the country plans to spend on education and health. The country's percentage rise in the defence budget was more than 15 per cent in 2005-06. Pakistan's defence budget as a percentage of GDP is 4.5 per cent (2006) and Rs4.26bn in total (ranked 39th)."

The size of the defence budget is normally not fully visible. Some interesting strategies have been evolved to downplay the impact. For instance, in 2001 the amount spent on the pensions of armed personnel was not shown as a part of the defence budget; it was mentioned under civil expenditure. Similarly, according to the CIA Fact Book, a large sum to buy F-16s multi-role fighter jets from the United States and the JF-17 Thunder fighters from China was kept separately.If we want to understand the real nature of the problem, we have to look at its four dimensions. Only then can we appreciate the gravity of the issue of financing education. The first dimension is that Pakistan is allocating a very small percentage of its GDP for education whereas relatively a larger chunk goes towards military expenditure.

The second dimension is quite disturbing. This is the actual expenditure. In defence, more money is spent than the estimated amount. But in education, a large amount of money remains unspent because of various reasons. Either the promised money is not released on time, or money is re-appropriated, or the process of the release of money is so complex that the heads of educational institutions give up.

There could be any reason but the fact is that in almost all plans a large amount remains unspent. A couple of examples should suffice to give an idea of the problem. For instance, in the Second Five-Year Plan (1960-65) Rs78m was allocated for primary education whereas only Rs18m was actually spent. Similarly, in the Seventh Five-Year Plan (1988-93) Rs10128m was allocated for primary education whereas only Rs6399.17m was actually spent. These are just two examples which show the overall trend in spending on education. Contrary to this, spending on defence is more than the estimated figures given in the budget.

The third dimension which is equally important is the appropriateness of the spent money. The post-9/11 scenario saw the inflow of massive foreign aid for 'better education' in Pakistan. This was a great opportunity to utilise financial resources in an appropriate manner. For instance, in the Parha Likha Punjab (literate Punjab) programme for which a large sum of money was available, nothing concrete could be achieved because much was spent on political appointments and image-building advertisements in the print and electronic media. Crash teacher education courses were organised without any meaningful change in the education system.

The perennial problem in the domain of education in Pakistan is that each government comes up with attractive slogans without the required political will. The result is that we are still grappling with the issues of quality at a very basic level.

The fourth dimension in financing education is lack of monitoring and accountability that has encouraged people to experiment, mess up and get away with their errors. What happened to some good educational initiatives, for instance, the Nai Roshni schools? Where did the funds collected in the name of Iqra go? Why did projects with huge foreign funds fail? We may never know the answers to these questions as there is no strong tradition of accountability in Pakistan.

Thus low allocation, under-spending, inappropriate spending and lack of accountability have done untold damage to the education sector in the country. What is happening is linked to socio-political practices in the wider sphere of society. For instance, for a long period of Pakistan's history the army has overtly and covertly dominated politics. That is why the tendency has been to spend more on defence. Educational initiatives were not given due importance.

We see glaring inconsistencies in the policies of different governments resulting in half-baked ideas and practices. What is required is a new perspective. By understanding the significance of education, allocating more funding for it and spending the money in a more appropriate manner, we can hope to bring about a positive change.

Change in the educational sphere is linked to the bigger societal sphere whose socio-political practices impact on education. Does that mean that we must wait until societal practices change and then start working for improvement in education? An alternative route is to improve our education in terms of its quality for societal development - a concept of development which is not confined to economic well-being alone but that ensures emancipation and individual freedom as well.

The writer is director of Centre for Humanities and Social Sciences, Lahore School of Economics and author of Rethinking Education in Pakistan.

By Dr Shahid Siddiqui (Dawn)

Your Comments
"Very realistic writing but there are numerous reasons lay in this sphere"
Name: shah
City, Country: Abbottabad, Pakistan



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